Monday, 18 March 2013

Don't miss the boat.

Mary took a pound of perfume worth a year’s wages, anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them clean with her hair.
With such a magnanimous gesture she left no room for doubt as to how she felt about Jesus and as such it is a beautiful moment. Her actions spoke much louder than any words she could have used.
The perfume was meant for his burial but she couldn’t wait until then, she wanted to show her feelings now while Jesus was still with them.
Doing and saying things while your loved ones are still with you is something we all put off all too frequently.
I suspect all of us, me included, can recall with regret all the things we  could have said and should have said, things we could and should have done for people while they were still with us, but the moment never seemed right or we were too buttoned up and embarrassed to do or say anything.
So while we may have regrets about those things, there is nothing we can do about that now because those occasions are in the past and cannot be changed.
We can resolve to do and say these things in the near future. “We’ll say it tomorrow” we tell ourselves but in reality tomorrow never comes.  It just avoids grasping the nettle.
Men in particular because of social conditioning as much as anything and a certain British reticence have the greatest difficulty in telling someone that they love them. We hope the other person will guess from our actions, just like Mary when she anointed Mary’s feet, though our actions are usually rather more mundane than that but I’m sure no less full of meaning.
I’ll bet there are a lot of people in all our lives who have never heard us express our deeper feelings for them, and perhaps never will because I’m not suggesting for a second that it is easy.
But a little courage goes a long way. The courage to lift the phone and talk to someone and establish contact after a long break or pointless argument. The courage to say “I love you” to someone who is so close to you that you hope they’ll already know that; and many do of course, but to hear it leaves no doubt.
The point is that Mary did what she did because she knew there wasn’t much time left. We always mistakenly think there is always plenty of time. But we never know what is just around the corner. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so by far the best option is to live in the present and do it or say now because you might not get another chance. Ever.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Mothering Sunday

The most primal relationship we ever have is with our mothers. At one level this is absolutely obvious.
Although conception takes two it is your mother who carries you, and feeds you for nine months, and it is your mother who brings you into this world, and even today it is mostly still our mothers who mostly takes the lion’s share of the feeding and rearing of us.
Having been physically connected for nine months -your life being completely dependent on your mother’s life - it seems natural (all other things being equal) that the bond with your mother is going to be one of the most important, if not the most important relationships of your entire life.
Before we get too dewy eyed we all know that not all mothers are perfect, and while the relationship will always be significant it may also be very difficult to manage.
But difficulties don’t alter the fact of the uniqueness and closeness of our relationship to our mothers.     
Now it is widely known that Jesus had some very harsh things to say about family ties, but what he said what he said talked of a radical extending of love that broke through the barriers of blood ties.
What Jesus was concerned about was that that very closeness of family ties didn’t become an exclusive bond that excludes all others. In the harsh things Jesus says concerning family ties the thrust of what he means is that those extremely close ties that we enjoy with our families should not be reserved exclusively for other members of our families but should be extended to include others outside of our blood relations.
There is no evidence in the New Testament for anything resembling “Christian family values” but there is  a sense that those close familial bonds of affection and service that are implicit should also be the way we relate to the wider human family. Rather than downplaying the best traits of normal  family  life of loyalty love and devotion Jesus advocates not loosening them but extending them.
This is the meaning of that poignant story when Jesus on the cross sees his mother standing there next to a young disciple called John and he tells them. “Woman here is your son” and then turning to the disciple says “Here is your mother”.
Spreading the love around, not keeping it for certain favoured inner circle is what Jesus wanted.
He encouraged us to think of God as a parent – in familial terms for a reason. For if God is our Father and mother, then we are all brothers and sisters – members of the same family, and as family members of the same family that means anyone here is due from me the same love and respect as my blood brother and sister.
Of course the analogy doesn’t stop there. Brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers don’t always get on. Sometimes families can be dysfunctional. That is exactly the same as in church as well but  even when we don’t get on, even when things get really bad – they are still “family” at the end of the day – and that is the same for all of our relationships in this model. Often we don’t like each other – but we are still commanded to love one another. And as I never tire of saying – Love is the absolute core of the Christian faith.  When all else fails – I believe in Love. And that is what we are celebrating here today.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The responsibility is ours

I think I can paraphrase this bit of prose from Luke quite succinctly like this;
Don’t worry about how sinful or otherwise other people might be. Sort your own life out. Your life is the only one you have direct control over.
Take responsibility for your own being and standing before God. The last  little parable of the fig tree  Jesus uses to emphasise what he says suggests there is always time to change and bear fruit but that time won’t last forever because eventually the fig tree will be cut down. Of course in the natural course of things we will die.
Nurturing our spiritual lives is what Jesus is alluding to when he talks about putting manure around the tree.
The fig tree is used in the Bible as a symbol  of the people of Israel, and of course  they always thought more collectively than we instinctively do but taking into account our more individualistic frame of mind I invite you to think of yourself as the fig tree or actually as any fruit tree you like.
Close your eyes and Imagine yourself as any kind of fruit tree. What state are you in?
Are you flourishing? Are you well watered, have you basked in the light, has your tree been pollinated? Will you produce lots of blossom that will produce lots of apples or pears or figs or whatever?
Or is the ground your tree in standing in poor ground, did the rains fail to come, the sun not shine, were you not well fed and watered so your crop will be a bit miserable.
Taking responsibility for the growth of our own tree is a spiritual task that only we can do for ourselves.
Part of that nurture will be coming to church on a Sunday. Part will be time spent in contemplation meditation or prayer. Part will be in taking theology seriously. Theology means just “God talk”. Who is God, what is God, what is the essential nature and character of the divine. Learning and discussing in a more structured and intellectual level is also a constituent part. Does it make any sense at all? Can you defend your faith publically?
The responsibility for each of us precious plants to blossom and grow is primarily our own responsibility  but naturally there is always a communal aspect in Christianity. We, each of us has a responsibility to make this space and this community(the church) fertile ground where a person can set down roots and grow. Our communal responsibility is to hold and accept and offer an open space where a person can freely explore their own way of being in the light of God.
To be held in community is a vital human need which when neglected causes something inside to atrophy and sometimes even die and people can turn in on themselves.
To stop that happening, to provide fertile ground for all of our journeys  the best place to start is as an individual taking responsibility for our own spiritual development and then also realising  our part in our collective responsibility to build a community worthy of the name.